Is Lucifer lurking in L. L. Bean land? In this nifty metaphysical thriller, a hunky exorcist and a passel of ghostbusting gal pals combat Dark Forces invading a picture-perfect Yankee hamlet.
St. Francis Xavier parish is losing pastors. Over the years, three freaked priest have fled, having beheld Sights Too Terrible to Speak Of. Enter redoubtable replacement Father Rich Melo, who's both fearless of Satan and Thornbirds-cute. Jane Edwell, plucky proprietor the Sip and Sit Cafe, joins Melo in his bid to blast open the malefic mystery. A 40ish gamine with a jogger's hard body, she's psychically gifted, her sixth sense an uncanny after-effect of her surviving a car crash that killed he family when she was a teen. Jane and the Church Hookers -- soccer moms who meet to handcraft folk-art rugs -- become demon detectives while sparing time to flirt harmlessly with the padre and exchange benign gossip with other un-desperate housewives. Melo, driven by the memory of his first exorcism of a 12-year-old gorgeous Italian bambina (one of the novel's truly terrifying scenes), gets down to soul-saving business while chastely boyfriending the women. A delightful storyteller with an eye for quotidian detail (the Hookers shop at T. J. Maxx and adore Oprah), Valentine turns in a smarter Touched by an Angel. It's the kind of determinedly edifying fiction that recalls G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown whodunits or Giovanni Guareschi's Don Camillo tales, sweet fluff once beloved of pre-Vatican II Catholics. Valentine's heroic priest-protagonist is a nice novelty and her heroines are engagingly down-to-earth.